I have always loved kids. From the time I was a girl, I worked with little ones as soon as I was old enough. My first real job was at a daycare center at the age of 15. I worked VBS at church every summer. Pretty much every job or volunteer opportunity I had, revolved around kids in some way. In college at Berry, I worked at the Child Development Center for the four years I was getting degrees in child development, psychology, and education.

My favorites are the preschool age kids. They are high energy, but they are also little sponges. You can almost see their bodies grow they are changing so fast. They tell it like it is. They want to know everything about everything. They are funny. They love to play. All those developmental stages I learned about in class, are visibly happening at these early ages. When they go to elementary school they keep on changing. It happens so quickly, you can watch it. The theorists, Maslow, Erickson, Piaget, and even Freud really understood the changes in development from stage to stage. Different theorists, but similar interests in identity formation.

On the dementia journey, I am watching child development in reverse. Mom is like a preschooler now in many ways and headed towards toddlerhood. Not self-conscious at all. She babbles as if she is fully understood. She cannot walk anymore. Or talk understandably. She is funny and so cute. Is it sad? Yes. It is. However, I feel like I am gaining understanding of how she was as a child. It is a unique look at a person I have known my whole life and what is underneath who she is.

She giggles like a girl. She finds things funny in new ways. Now, she communicates through her facial expressions. Surprise, delight, pain, all show up on her face, no words needed. She doesn’t understand, but like a little one, she takes in her environment as best she can. She expresses herself in stutters and syllables, and just like when a child is learning to speak, we try to figure out what she is saying. We celebrate when she strings words together into a complete sentence. The only difference is that these sentences get fewer and fewer. The words get less intelligible instead of more. We wait for the next stage with dread, rather than excitement.

I have also watched Dad as he has navigated these changes. With pain etched on his face, he jokes and laughs with her. He is jovial despite his heartache. Her eyes find him and her dazed confused look fades. She connects with him, like a newborn who can find the face of her parents in a room full of strangers. She KNOWS him. He talks to her like he used to talk to me when I was a child. He is animated. She mirrors his energy.

Last week she even copied his facial expressions and silliness at one point. It took us by surprise and we all laughed genuine belly laughs, including her. She sometimes will not let me take her spoon away when her ice cream is all gone. She scrunches up her face and pretends to be upset. Then she laughs as if the grab for the spoon is a joke. It is like somewhere deep inside she knows these little expressions are the cause of our momentary joy. These moments are getting few and far between. They always take us off guard and that is the fun of them. Out of the blue, she connects in a humorous way to show us she is still in there.   

I am fascinated by the changes and how she is going full circle. Back to trust vs mistrust. Back to physical needs. Back to the id. Back to sensorimotor. I know there are geriatric theorists out there, but I haven’t read their work. At the beginning of this journey, I read a lot about the disease itself. Trying to comprehend what was coming, but child development is my area of expertise and the reversal of Mom’s cognitive function is clearer to me when I look to what I know. And I know we are going backwards. And I know there will be an end. And I know it is hard now and will be hard then. There is no easy on this road. But there is joy in the midst, and there are times where Mom is so stinking cute, I just want to squeeze her in a hug and hold her tight. It lightens the load a bit to see her not as a diseased elderly woman, but as a little child who fully trusts, who is fully in the moment, who loves to giggle. Changes the perspective, and I am grateful for it.

5 thoughts on “Childlike

  1. Your post is so touching. Thank you for sharing your journey. Prayers for you and your family as you travel this path of unknowns. May Jesus bring you all comfort and peace during this difficult time.

  2. What a journey – for each of you – joining it with your Mom. What courage, strength, sensitivity, and immeasurable love. Prayers for you and your family.

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